Embracing Christ and the Cross: Our Lady of Charity

Pope John Paul II made an apostolic visitation during January 1998, blessing the statue, the Cuban people, and calling once again for Mary's patronage and help.

During this celebration we will crown the image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre . . . [T]he Queen and Mother of all Cubans—regardless of race, political allegiance or ideology—guides and sustains, as in times past, the steps of her sons and daughters towards our heavenly homeland, and she encourages them to live in such a way that in society those authentic moral values may reign which constitute the rich spiritual heritage received from your forebears.

Mary's example . . . shows us the path to take. With her, the Church fulfils her own vocation and mission, proclaiming Jesus Christ and . . . building a universal brotherhood. . . .

The evangelizing efforts being carried out in . . . districts and towns which have no churches . . . serve not only Catholics but the whole Cuban people, so that everyone may come to know and love Jesus Christ. History teaches that without faith virtue disappears, moral values are dulled, truth no longer shines forth, life loses its transcendent meaning and even service of the nation can cease to be inspired by solid motivations . . .

The Church calls everyone to make faith a reality in their lives, as the best path to the integral development of the human being . . . and for attaining true freedom, which includes the recognition of human rights and social justice. In this regard, lay Catholics—holding to their specific role as lay persons so that they may be "salt and leaven" in the midst of the society of which they are part—have the duty and the right to participate in public debate on the basis of equality and in an attitude of dialogue and reconciliation. Likewise, the good of a nation must be promoted and achieved by its citizens themselves through peaceful and gradual means. (Homily, John Paul II, 24 January 1998, Santiago de Cuba)

Today's feast day in Cuba and the U.S. inaugurates the Jubilee Year, or the Quatra-Centennial Celebration of 2012, honoring Mary's "arrival" in Cuba via her discovery in the sea.

The Bishops of Cuba have adopted a slogan in preparation for the 400th anniversary: "La caridad nos une"—"charity unites us." And slowly, what we see now may indeed be an unfolding of the next chapter of Cuban history, where the hope of safe harbors is on the minds of Mary's children.

In recent months, the image of Cuba's patroness has been on the move outside the walls of the shrine sanctuary. As the image is brought to the different dioceses in Cuba, the faithful respond spontaneously with inspiring processions and crowds filling homes, churches, or wherever Mary is welcomed. This is happening, despite Cuba being an officially atheistic country.

Here in the U.S., there is a National Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Charity on Miami's shoreline on Biscayne Bay, Ermita de la Caridad. The dramatic shrine, built in the sweeping shape of Mary's mantle, was erected thanks to thousands of donations from generations of exiled Cubans and their American-born children, among others. Beautiful as it is, the sanctuary is too small to accommodate the large crowds expected every September 8th. So, today's joyous celebration will move down the street a few miles to the University of Miami.

This year's anniversary is poignant not only because it is mindful of the Jubilee beginning in Cuba, but also because today marks the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of Charity's "arrival" on the shores of the United States—in the form of a replica statue of Our Lady of Charity. This statue was designed in Cuba and delivered to the Archdiocese of Miami on this date in 1961, thanks to the work of complicated political maneuverings involving the cooperation of the Italian and Panamanian embassies.

On that day, a half-century ago, then-Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll prayed with 30,000 Cuban exiles, celebrating Our Lady of Charity's feast day.

That huge Marian celebration demonstrated the charity of the U.S. Catholic Church, which during its history has always been characterized by its welcome of immigrants. It was also proof of the great devotion that Cubans feel for the Mother of Christ under the patronage of Our Lady of Charity: a people who, seeking freedom, fled from their homeland leaving everything behind but the love of their Heavenly Mother. (History of the Shrine, Ermita de la Caridad)

For fifty years now, this image of Mary in Miami has been a source of encouragement and hope for Cuban exiles and the generations that followed them.

And for many other people, like me, in search of a safe harbor in a storm.

Our Lady of Charity, pray for us!

:::video{"playertype":"youtube", "videoid":"_NCPrp4tH-w", "width": "515", "height":"341"}:::
9/7/2011 4:00:00 AM